In the November 24 edition of The New York Times, the complaint columnist, “The Haggler” penned a screed about PR spam. In it, he chronicles some of the idiotic pitches he receives from PR people. The complaint is valid. We've heard it innumerable times. But the Haggler's recommended remedy to this problem is equally idiotic.
The Haggler takes umbrage at being pitched en masse by imbeciles who call themselves PR people. He should be upset. Ham-fisted email blasts are a waste of staff time, clients' budgets, and reporter goodwill. But this stupid PR trick happens every day in our business. Why agencies still resort to this tactic remains an abiding mystery to those of us who would never engage in this hideous practice. If you're doing it, please stop. If you continue to do it, and insist on calling yourself a PR person, please stop.
There will be more than a few closed-door meetings at the shop profiled by The Haggler to figure out “how did this happen?” But for sake of argument, let me hazard a guess. A young staffer was told to “get the pitch out.” With little effort and less critical thinking, he or she download a media list, in this case from Vocus, and blasted out the pitch, and checked that task off the to-do list. This is not how it's done. We all know how to do it right. The issue, to paraphrase Nike, is just doing it.
This brings me to my complaint. The Haggler's remedy to this problem would be to demand the media database companies that serve the PR industry remove him, and all reporters, from their databases. Easy access to reporters' e-mail addresses is not the issue. In fact, The Haggler's e-mail address runs at the bottom of the column each week. So it is hard to contemplate a more facile argument than The Haggler's, which boils down to — reporters should run and hide.
The issue is not that reporters should seek the cover of stealth, or that PR people should simply curl-up and die. The issue is how we, PR and media, negotiate our highly complex, interdependent working relationship. Instead of quibbling, perhaps we should live by a few simple and inviolate rules. Herewith are several proposals:
·We (PR) will never, under any circumstances, send you (the media) a blast e-mail pitch.
·All of our pitches will be highly customized and appropriate to your area of coverage.
·Therefore, and by extension, we ask you to read our pitches and respond in kind.
·We ask that you answer your phone, and return the (one) voice message we leave for you.
·Finally, we ask that you show up to the appointments that you schedule (and re-confirm) with us and our clients.
Ideally we should be strengthening our shared sense of purpose and carefully protecting our fragile symbiosis. Little will get done unless we work together. We can't have PR people abusing the trust and good graces of our media brethren, and similarly we'd request the media to drop the tiresome charade that you don't depend on PR people to do your job. Let's just live up to the best we have to offer one another, which is a great working relationship that leads to positive outcomes for our clients and your readers.Michael Young is SVP at Access Communications.